Conflict Diamonds: African Artisanal Miners Struggle For Survival — Leadership Newspaper
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Conflict Diamonds: African Artisanal Miners Struggle For Survival

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Diamond, a highly sought after solid mineral, has been the reason behind several wars in many African countries, resulting in several negative effects on the economies of these nations and their citizens. MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI writes. 

In Central African Republic (CAR), before the violent war in 2013, which led to the deaths of 10,000 of its citizen, with the ousting of then President Francois Bozize, diamonds made up a greater number of its exports to the tune of 800, 000 carats. CAR was the 10th largest diamond producer in 2012.

Same happened in Sierra Leone during the time of Charles Taylor, who raised child armies that didn’t hesitate to maim, rape and kill over 75,000 Sierra Leonians, to mine the diamonds for the now tried and exiled ex-president.

In CAR, where conflict is re-occurring, it is hard to manage artisanal miners and there is evidence that in spite of the Kimberly Process earlier ban, illegal mining in areas controlled by militia amounted to 60, 000 carats.

Many were of the belief that the process exacerbated rather than resolved the mining of conflict diamonds as the country’s legitimate economy shrunk by 37 per cent in 2013, as reported by the IMF, and the government, over $24 million lost to illegal mining to crooked collectors and armed groups who seized the situation to sell raw diamonds via cross border smuggling rings to sell in some of the countries that are members of the Kimberly Process.

As usual, the poor artisanal miners in the affected areas are the biggest victims.

In a report by Washington Times, a poor artisanal miner in Bangui, CAR, Christophe Gounou struggled with the most basic of mining tools to make the self-set goal of 80 carats per month. 80 carats of diamond sell for 200, 000 CFA Francs, the equivalent of $360. That is what he needs to support his wife and four-year old daughter.

According to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), News Extra, Africa produces about 60 per cent of the world’s supply of diamond.

However, with wars breaking out in many of these African countries, inherent in diamonds like Central African Republic (CAR), Cote D’Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone and in the southern African countries like Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), South Africa and Angola, in mid and late 1990s, it has been discovered that these diamonds called ‘conflict of blood diamonds’ are used to sponsor and fuel war.

Following the ban on both countries by the Kimberly Review Process, an international licensing body that seeks to prevent the sale of diamonds in war zones, the results seem divided. While in areas like Cote D’Ivoire, with the end of the war, artisanal miners have been encouraged to identify and authorise their businesses.

Initially afraid to mine in the increasing conflict area, the need to feed his family overshadowed the present daily dangers the militia posed. He continued to mine in the east and west of CAR.

 

“Initially, I was afraid of finding myself in the middle of armed men,” the miner said. “But, I had no choice. We have to find (diamonds) in order to survive. I pray to God every day.”

With the rising conflict, it is uncertain what the CAR authorities are doing to improve the living of artisanal miners like Gounou or to stem illegal mining activities.

Meantime, in three years to the day when civil war broke out in Cote D’Ivoire in 2002, the United Nations put a ban on diamonds exported from Cote D’Ivoire, upon its discovery that the ‘conflict diamonds’ were used to finance war in the country.

The 10 year old ban was lifted in 2014, following the Cote D’Ivoiren authority involvement of the Kimberly Process Review, an international body that aims to prevent conflict diamonds from entering the international market, to fulfill all the regulation requirements on all diamond mining activity.

Yet it appears that the poor resident miners of Seguela and Tortiya remain the sufferers and victims of the long ended civil war, as they have lost their means of income, and live below the universally accepted standard of living.

More confused than ever, the residents wonder when they will regain the only means of livelihood since via the Kimberly Process Review, they have conformed to the system of identification, authorisation, and traceability of their diamond mining activities.

Their confusion is understandable, taking in cognisance the fact that the residents were used to earning a comfortable, if not rich income and able to support their families before the war broke out leading to the exit of the mining companies they initially and legally worked for.

With the exit of the mining companies, and the civil war, Seguela and Tortiya residents were left to fend for themselves, when the Cote D’Ivoiren authorities lost control of both areas in the northern region of the country. Those unable to continue with the new harsh realities of living migrated to other villages, others who couldn’t afford to migrate, stayed on forced to endure drastically dwindled income, illnesses, divorces and watching their children drop out of school, because they could no longer go take care of their families.

“They told us that it was the diamonds that were fueling the war. The embargo law caused us today to be in poverty,” said Tortiyan miner, Amara Sanogo.

Terah Dejong, the country director of USAID’s Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development Programme (PRADD- II), an initiative welcomed by the authorities to assist in the removal of the embargo, said the residents were not aware of the civil war because, “the implication of the different rebels and actors were at a higher level than the chain of production and commercialisation.”

“We have not seen the effects of the new regulations. All we ask is that government geologists show us new sites or give out parcels of land to villages so that we can start mining,” said Seguelan miner, Aliou Bah.

 

“We understand the importance of these communities who really helped us in getting the embargo lifted. They put in place all the advice that we gave them and accepted to get registered within our system.”

“They were expecting to have a certain level of compensation right after the lifting of the embargo,” said Madame Fatoumata Thes, permanent secretary of the Kimberly Process.

They said the aim of the government was to ensure that the communities not only benefit but also have their income diversified.

Uncertain of when and how the intervention will take place, the miners still cannot help but be hopeful.

“We are waiting for the financing and aid in order to restart diamond mining,” said Sanago, who despite lacking the resources to leave the little less than shanty filled village, stayed with the believe that there is more gold to mine from it.

“All we ask is that geologists show us new sites or give out parcels of land to villages so that we can start mining,” said the hopeful Bah.

But mining for diamonds with local tools, diggers, rough iron buckets and basins, in mud-streaked water is not what Bah wants for his children.

“Diamonds are about good luck, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. So, for my kids, I hope that they go to school, that they learn another profession that is not diamond mining,” said Bah.



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